Effort Level Vs. Tangible Problems

Jonathan Willis
October 05 2009 11:11AM

Joanne Ireland’s column this morning focuses on the Oilers’ new motto: “Anything”. Given that I think mottos help players about as much as mission statements help my commitment to my day job, I brushed past that bit and got interested when the column started talking about effort level.

For example, Ethan Moreau supplied this gem:

 “There wasn't a lack of effort. We haven't had a game like that here in a while."

I know that it’s fashionable to chalk last season’s disastrous finish up to a lack of effort, a narrative which allows fans to pick on whichever goat they dislike the most. It’s great fun. Don’t like Shawn Horcoff? Well, it’s too bad he didn’t try last year. Perhaps you aren’t a fan of Tom Gilbert – if only he’d been more intense. It’s easy and it doesn’t need to make sense – everyone knows that the underdog can win if only he’d try just a little bit harder.

Let’s take a moment though and step away from the tremendously easy "he didn't try hard enough" game and try looking at the problems from last year.

Last season’s penalty kill was among the worst in the NHL; something that perhaps isn’t overly surprising given that Craig MacTavish had exactly three forwards who played regularly (Horcoff, Brodziak, Moreau) and one of those was often in the box himself. The rest of the minutes went to Fernando Pisani (who missed more than half the season), Erik Cole (traded at the deadline), and minor-league call-up Liam Reddox.

Let’s just say that even if the coaching had been superb, this wasn’t going to be an elite group.

That penalty killing group allowed 76 goals against, and had they been even average it would have saved the team 13 goals. How much difference would 13 goals have made in the standings?

Of course, that weakness remained unaddressed during the offseason; Brodziak was sent away, nobody was brought in to take his place. Pisani is out (again) and on injured reserve, and in Game One Pat Quinn responded by giving ice-time to guys who have never killed penalties much in the big leagues – Andrew Cogliano led all forwards with 1:31 in ice-time, Ryan Stone played more than a minute and both Gilbert Brule and Jean-Francois Jacques filled in at times. The unit responded with a two-for-four night, and while it’s still too early to declare the experiment a failure, would it surprise anyone if that trend continued?

Another problem was the lack of qualified players to take defensive zone draws. Craig MacTavish generally doubled up on centres, sending out Shawn Horcoff and Kyle Brodziak with a winger (generally one of Moreau, Stortini or Reddox, given that Pisani was on the shelf or playing at less than 100% for most of the season). That decision was certainly a factor in crippling the offensive game of both players.

Again, the weakness remained unaddressed during the off-season (worsened actually, given the departure of Brodziak) and Quinn responded by sending out Gilbert Brule in the defensive zone and Shawn Horcoff everywhere. While Brule was good on the draw in the defensive zone (three for five) vs. Calgary he was a miserable 36% overall on the night, and has no track record of being an effective NHL faceoff man. How long can his luck in his own end hold out, and how much will it hurt the team if it doesn’t?

Yes, yesterday I said that it was far too early for one game to change anyone’s mind. These problems though are items that any rational observer would be concerned about – and no shift in effort level is going to fix them. There were encouraging signs last night – Moreau talks about physical intensity but both the shot clock and the faceoff count show that the Oilers also dominated territorially – and barring a goaltending imbalance that will help them win games.

The point here is that the problems last year extended well beyond effort; and even assuming that the team’s slogan remains fixed in mind and they continue to play with a physical edge through all 82 games, that won’t solve those underlying problems. Unless Pat Quinn can mold young and as-of-yet unqualified players to fit those roles, and do it quickly, this team will lose games and points in the standings because of it.

Just like they did against Calgary.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 MWA1991
October 05 2009, 01:34PM
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I personally think Jonathan should have brought up the Bulin Wall in this post as well. After the first Flame PP goal, and how it was scored, I thought to myself, here we go again...

And to think all you Albertans have it bad. I'm an American, die-hard Oiler fan living in Red Wing country. I get NHL Center Ice so I can watch my beloved Oilers, otherwise, I'd get see about 3 games a year on the NHL Network. I was already mad and exhausted from the Wolverine game, but was determined to watch the whole game.

So here it is, about 1:00 AM, trying to stay awake, thinking we'll go to a shootout (another, here we go again...) But no, "The Wall" came crashing down. Bewilderment followed by a fit of rage. Then I sat back thinking to myself, what did you expect? These ARE YOUR Edmonton Oilers. Get used to it ladies and gents, it's going to be a long, long season.

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#52 Senator Theo
October 05 2009, 01:37PM
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BarryS wrote:

Have to disagree with your assessment of Gagner's goal as being a lucky goal. The bounce was lucky, to be sure, but he made a real hockey play to score the goal. he made the goalie open his legs then shot it between them. it did not bounce off his a$$ and in, he did not shoot it into the goalies body, he did not shoot it over the net, he did not miss the net on either side, he did not try to pass to someone else, he did not freeze until the defenceman knocked him on his a$$. now having it hit your stick when you did not see it coming, did not glance off a defencemans throat when going wide,

I agree with you completely. The bounce that created the chance was lucky, but Gagner waited until he had the hole to shoot at to score.

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#53 toprightcorner
October 05 2009, 01:40PM
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BUCK75 wrote:

HTML - will take some practice - I'm sure it will get worked out later.

put a P between the less than & greater than symbols. Remember to put a / inside of the closing tag.

Thanx

Just need to think now.

/I think I need a tutor

/ Hey Wanye and Bingogas, now about an instruction help button for us non-computer edumacated hockey fams!

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#54 THREE 1ST NAMES
October 05 2009, 01:44PM
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what makes this loss worse? loosing the way we did on home ice on opening night? or just loosing to Calgary?

there was an earlier post regarding Edmonton fans showing there colors during a game and bringing out the blue jerseys/shirts i would have to agree but it would have to be the retro jersey blue(stands out more)

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#55 rindog
October 05 2009, 01:53PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Because the team, which sucked on the penalty kill last year, sucked on the penalty kill in Game One. There is every reason to believe (and no reason not to believe) that they will continue to suck the rest of the way.

As for giving them a fighting chance, yes I have a spot in my heart for the team. But first and foremost I need to be an objective observer; and an objective observer would tell you what I just told you.

It's going to take a lot more than one encouraging loss (is there really such an animal?) and platitudes that I've heard before to change my outlook.

Are you just looking at the box score when you say that the PK sucked?

From what I saw, the PK was very effective in keeping the puck to outside and applying pressure up top. Both of the PP goals were decent yet lucky. I wouldn'y say that they were the result of poor penalty killing.

It was the first game of the season and they Oilers seemed to handle most situations better than they did last year. I know you have to write stuff to keep us on our toes, but the timing of this article/comment is a little perplexing.

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#56 BarryS
October 05 2009, 01:56PM
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@Bingofuel</b? Anychance of having the page number being viewed is highlighted in a dark colour? It would make navigating back and forth easier.

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#57 BarryS
October 05 2009, 01:58PM
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I'll try this again

@Bingofuel

Any chance of having the page number being viewed is highlighted in a dark colour? It would make navigating back and forth easier.

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#60 Ogden Brother
October 05 2009, 02:09PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Really? I thought it was his trip to the stick factory in Mexico.

Here's a direct quote from Shawn.... again FWIW:

"I changed my sticks and went to a sports psychologist a few times a week. The psychologist helped me focus and visualize things to enhance my game. As a result, I feel I have more of a shooter’s mentality, whereas I used to think pass first. I have the confidence to get into position and find the open ice and it has resulted in more goals."

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#63 Ogden Brother
October 05 2009, 02:24PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

On the other hand, also FWIW, remember that year Raffi Torres was going to blow us away because he was in a stable relationship and spending a lot of time with a sports psychiatrist?

Meanwhile, in Montreal, the partying is destroying Carey Price, and it's a total coincidence that his play dropped off at precisely the same time as he had his injury.

I know personally that mental focus matters; but for the most part people don't dramatically change their personalities, and for the most part the tangible matters a lot more than the intangible.

Also, many times the "new approach" doesn't change anything. Look at San Jose - new coach, new veteran defencemen - and what happened?

For the most part I agree, but the main point I'm trying to get accross is that we really don't know exactly why Horcof went from 16 goals to 21 in 53 (rough #'s). Was it the sticks? mental focus? improved conditioning? lucky bounces? better opportunity? No one really knows for sure.

Now for the most part you can spread that same line of thinking over a whole team.

Why did the Caps go from competeting for a lotto pick to competeting for the division? (after Boudreau was hired). Why did the Bruins go from 8th to first in one year, or the Habs from 1st to 8th... with basically the same rosters?

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#64 Boris
October 05 2009, 02:36PM
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I don't know if anyone has mentioned this on the Nation yet,(I can only check in every couple of days) but as a goaltender in my youth, my thought would have been "Where is the rest of my team !!!" while skating out to the faceoff circle to retreve a puck that was rolling and bouncing and the only other player around was a Flame. Yeah The Wall mis played the puck but he shouldn't have to be put in that position.... Over all, I thought the team played quite well, too early to make any judgements on the future... Go Oilers

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#65 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 05 2009, 02:49PM
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Biggest problem I seen was the lack of aggresivness from our forwards on the PK. Postioning is the biggest problem outside of faceoffs right now. We need one if we want to be in the top 20 and if we want to have a real solid PK we need both.

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#66 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 05 2009, 02:50PM
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Souray was on the ice by the net and the other d-man was behind Moss.

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#67 toprightcorner
October 05 2009, 03:00PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Adam Oates works as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I didn't know that, thanx for the update.

It will be interesting to see what their faceoff stats will be this year.

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#68 GSC
October 05 2009, 03:07PM
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MWA1991 wrote:

I personally think Jonathan should have brought up the Bulin Wall in this post as well. After the first Flame PP goal, and how it was scored, I thought to myself, here we go again...

And to think all you Albertans have it bad. I'm an American, die-hard Oiler fan living in Red Wing country. I get NHL Center Ice so I can watch my beloved Oilers, otherwise, I'd get see about 3 games a year on the NHL Network. I was already mad and exhausted from the Wolverine game, but was determined to watch the whole game.

So here it is, about 1:00 AM, trying to stay awake, thinking we'll go to a shootout (another, here we go again...) But no, "The Wall" came crashing down. Bewilderment followed by a fit of rage. Then I sat back thinking to myself, what did you expect? These ARE YOUR Edmonton Oilers. Get used to it ladies and gents, it's going to be a long, long season.

Ye of little faith!

As a fellow Michigander (currently, that is) I would hope that you'd have deeper faith to cope with everyone in Wings Country.

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#69 BarryS
October 05 2009, 03:07PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

Souray was on the ice by the net and the other d-man was behind Moss.

Actually, he was coasting along behind Moss. Watch the replay. he was beside moss at the blueline and never moved his feet after.

Old goalies stick together.

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#70 OvenChicken8 - Team JSBM
October 05 2009, 03:10PM
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toprightcorner wrote:

I didn't know that, thanx for the update.

It will be interesting to see what their faceoff stats will be this year.

Well they'll probably be better then the Oil :P

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#72 SirFozz
October 05 2009, 03:11PM
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BarryS wrote:

Actually, he was coasting along behind Moss. Watch the replay. he was beside moss at the blueline and never moved his feet after.

Old goalies stick together.

Khabby clearly had time to handle to puck so Souray moved over to give him an outlet. Souray could not have picked Moss without risking a penalty, so he did the right thing. Old goalies seem to be to blame. :)

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#73 BarryS
October 05 2009, 03:14PM
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SirFozz wrote:

Khabby clearly had time to handle to puck so Souray moved over to give him an outlet. Souray could not have picked Moss without risking a penalty, so he did the right thing. Old goalies seem to be to blame. :)

I was speaking of #77 who was not only coasting, he made no effort to impede moss as moss blew by him.

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#74 SirFozz
October 05 2009, 03:17PM
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@BarryS

OH. I blame getting used to the new site for my obvious lack of paying attention. My bad.

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#75 rindog
October 05 2009, 03:17PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I should hope the Oilers managed to keep the puck to the outside, given that Calgary had less than four minutes of powerplay time and managed four shots and two goals.

Meanwhile, focusing on the other special team, the Oilers managed ten shots in eight minutes.

To my recollection, none of the Flames 4 shots were any better scoring chances than the Oilers chances. Some nights the puck goes in and some nights it doesn't.

I was just concerned with your timing of comments on a PK that has had a chance to play one game under a totally different sytem?

I was (and still am) totally happy with the way in which the Oilers designed their PK system. It looks very similar (not quite as aggressive) as the PK system that Carolina dominated with during their cup run (especially in the final).

I am sure most will agree that your insight is always welcomed and usually very well researched.

I don't believe that (in this case) you have done the leg work that you usually do??

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#76 Eddie Shore
October 05 2009, 03:20PM
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BarryS wrote:

I was speaking of #77 who was not only coasting, he made no effort to impede moss as moss blew by him.

Are you kidding me? That was Khabby's puck all the way. He screwed up. Gilbert is not going to risk taking a penalty with under a minute left in a tied game on a play like that. Give your head a shake man.

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#77 BarryS
October 05 2009, 03:27PM
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Eddie Shore wrote:

Are you kidding me? That was Khabby's puck all the way. He screwed up. Gilbert is not going to risk taking a penalty with under a minute left in a tied game on a play like that. Give your head a shake man.

My head is shaking, at giving don't care defencemen the pass when had he cared and contested with Moss maybe Khabby doesn't even need to make the play. If Moss skated better than #77 then why was he on the ice. The point is, #77 had brain freeze beforbe Khabby did. It was shoot in, why was #77 coasting. It wasn't #44's job to come from the other point to go to the wrong corner.

I know, there are more old forwards and defencemen than old goalies so who gets overlooked. when goalies are forced to come out to play the puck there is a defenceman being lazy:-)

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#78 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 05 2009, 03:35PM
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So Gilbert makes the first mistake, but ultimately Bulin made the final mistake. He could've stayed in his net and took the shot.

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#79 The Fish
October 05 2009, 03:41PM
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This team will be just fine Willis.

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#80 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
October 05 2009, 03:41PM
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@BarryS

I don't like the new quoting system. It doesn't offer an opportunity to respond to specific statements in long posts. The 'name' and 'e-mail address' fields don't pre-populate, either.

Great site otherwise, guys. Nice touch with the graphic of the chunk of the cup that belongs to Edmonton.

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#81 THREE 1ST NAMES
October 05 2009, 03:41PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

So Gilbert makes the first mistake, but ultimately Bulin made the final mistake. He could've stayed in his net and took the shot.

totally agree BULIN needs to stay in his net

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#82 Chris.
October 05 2009, 03:53PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

I don't like the new quoting system. It doesn't offer an opportunity to respond to specific statements in long posts. The 'name' and 'e-mail address' fields don't pre-populate, either.

Great site otherwise, guys. Nice touch with the graphic of the chunk of the cup that belongs to Edmonton.

Totally agree. A respondant really needs the ability to break doen a comment and respond to each individual statement... I loved that about the old site. It's something that needs to be fixed.

For example: I'm only responding to the first sentence of the above post were Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things says: I don't like the new quoting system.

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#83 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
October 05 2009, 03:57PM
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THREE 1ST NAMES wrote:

totally agree BULIN needs to stay in his net

See, I'm on the fence on this one. With Moss wide open, and with how much space Khabby had to make the play, I think he made the right choice. The main problem was that he fumbled the puck and Moss got extremely lucky with the direction of the puck after he poked it out.

On the other hand, he would have been in a better position to make the save as Moss approached. I think about 90% of the time it's the right play, with 10% of the plays turning out like it did on Saturday night.

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#84 OvenChicken8 - Team JSBM
October 05 2009, 04:06PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

So Gilbert makes the first mistake, but ultimately Bulin made the final mistake. He could've stayed in his net and took the shot.

We all know it was Gilberts fault, it always is and always will be. The problem with Gilbert is he has other things on his mind, for instance his girly blog about 17 magazine or how Tab energy drinks really help with his cramps. Poor West Bulin Wall was left hanging.

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#86 Chris.
October 05 2009, 04:09PM
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Loved the game. Was entertained for the first time in years. Totally agree with Moreau's comments in the Ireland column where he said: "If you don't have a (physical presence) on every line, you can go five, six minutes without a hit, then everybody wonders why you're not playing hard," he continued, "but if you have somebody on every line, then it's contagious. Everybody follows, and it's a fun way to play."

I think the boys will be all right for the first time in years. BTW: can someone please explain to me how to create distinct paragraphs in my comments? I am totally unimpressed with some of the new formating.

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#87 The Fish
October 05 2009, 04:13PM
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@Jonathan Willis

After 1 game? Come on. Colorado looks unbeatable after 1 game, where do you think they'll end up? (Rhetorical)

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#88 oilfan6
October 05 2009, 04:21PM
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Visnovski omark staios nillison and a 1st round pick to atlanta for a long term signed kovachuk would help edm lots and put them in a nice place in the playoffs. We have too many offencive D and not enough high scoring first line players

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#89 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
October 05 2009, 04:28PM
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oilfan6 wrote:

Visnovski omark staios nillison and a 1st round pick to atlanta for a long term signed kovachuk would help edm lots and put them in a nice place in the playoffs. We have too many offencive D and not enough high scoring first line players

you want a cash strapped thrashers team to take on more $$$$$$$$ in return for their best player?

honestly?

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#91 Hemmertime
October 05 2009, 04:45PM
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With the Heatley thing coming close I give Tambo some credit. However the glaring failures to do anything to fill these holes has me almost missing Lowe... almost.

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#92 stilldrinkingthekoolaid
October 05 2009, 05:05PM
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With the Heatley thing coming close I give Tambo some credit. However the glaring failures to do anything to fill these holes has me almost missing Lowe... almost

Puhleeze

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#93 stilldrinkingthekoolaid
October 05 2009, 05:06PM
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I suck at this

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#94 Oilersordeath
October 05 2009, 05:08PM
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I can honestly say, its been a least two years since I walked away from a game with a smile on my face. I mean yeah they lost in one of the most rediculous ways I've ever seen but still. Brule ficken ripped that puck. I think his confidence is gleaming right now, and of course Gags he had me standing the whole night!!

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#95 oilfan6
October 05 2009, 05:13PM
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cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan wrote:

you want a cash strapped thrashers team to take on more $$$$$$$$ in return for their best player?

honestly?

ok then nillson visnovski omark and a 1st

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#96 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
October 05 2009, 05:20PM
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@ cableguy:

What's up with not showing up on Saturday? I had to hook up an antenna to my new LCD TV just to catch the game on Saturday. Fortunately for me it was on CBC.

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#97 BarryS
October 05 2009, 07:06PM
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I agree bulin should have stayed in his net. It takes time for a defence and goalie to mesh and trust each other. Can understand his trying to play defence and goal at the same time seeing how nobody touched glenX on the first goal and the defence accidently scored the third.

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#98 Eddie Shore
October 05 2009, 08:09PM
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I honestly cannot believe you guys think that Bulin should have stayed in the net. Wow.

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#99 MWA1991
October 05 2009, 08:24PM
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@GSC

@GSC

Oh I do have faith and I get to poke fun at my buddies about the Wings as much as they poke fun at me. I actually used to buy into a 1/4 season Wings package just so I could see some live hockey and the Oilers. I'll never quit on my team. But as Jonathan state in his post and responses, the team had glaring problems last year. And the same problems showed up immediately in Game 1 of the season. That scares the hell out of me and definitely pushes my faith to the limit!

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#100 Hemmertime
October 05 2009, 09:44PM
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stilldrinkingthekoolaid wrote:

With the Heatley thing coming close I give Tambo some credit. However the glaring failures to do anything to fill these holes has me almost missing Lowe... almost

Puhleeze

Lowes problem was he over compensated, dont have tough guys, now get ALL tough guys. No small talented forwards or offensive D... well you see where it leads.

However he did bring us within 1 win of the cup, and there are 15 teams in the west and it took less than 15 years.

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